Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ecclesiastes 11:1-2, brew beer that you can share with others who shall, in turn, repay you


Ecclesiastes 11:1-2 may refer to brewing beer. If one casts bread into the water how is there any certainty that one will find it again? You won't since the bread will ferment and rot away ... unless that's the point. Giving portions to seven or eight is often thought of as referring to multiple investments and I would say most commentators of the few I've read tend to agree on this.

BUT what if this investment is in the lives of others. Give portions to seven or even eight may not refer to investments of a directly financial kind but investments in the lives of people who may one day return the favor. As Proverbs puts it we are urged to never forsake a friend, neither ours nor our father's. We are enjoined to not go to a distant relative's house in time of need. Better a neighbor who is near than a brother far away.

Ecclesiastes 11 certainly goes on to discuss how one can't be sure what will succeed or fail but Ecclesiastes 11 opens with a cryptic statement that you should cast your bread into the waters for in time you will receive it again. This is a weirdly certain statement if the whole chapter is about the uncertainty of investment. If, however, it is a prologue saying you should be willing to invest in things that are sure then this investment is an indirect one. I scratch your back and you scratch mine.

Of course over at City of God the upshot of such a proposed interpretation and the numerous references to wine in Ecclesiastes is that John MacArthur's stance against alcohol has to play so fast and loose with biblical texts as to be a joke. Grace to You apparently applies in those parts of life that MacArthur believes he can say are approved in the scriptures and that he also approves of. Or perhaps he can say that those passages don't apply.

I would like to make an aside about alcohol consumption at a more personal level. I didn't take a drink of alcohol until I was 27. I spent two hours sipping at a white russian watching Laurel & Hardy movies with friends of mine until 2 am. It was fun. For the teetotalers I respect their abstention from alcohol but I would point out that there are two general provisos given in the scriptures about alcohol. The first and obvious one is to not get drunk. The second less obvious association is that there are two times when alcohol consumption is considered normative. One is that you're dying. Alcohol can help deaden the nerves. But more common is the association of wine and prosperity. Paul wrote that if a man will not work let him not eat. Well, by extension, if a man will not work let him avoid drink, too. My alcohol consumption plummeted after I got laid off nearly two years ago. I have better and smarter things to do with my time than drink wine or beer or what-have-you.

The scriptures indicate that there will be wine at the feast of the Lamb. Alcohol production is taken as a sign of prosperity and leisure and peace in the scriptures. When times are good rejoice and when times are bad know that the Lord has made one as well as the other so that a person may not know what shall come in the future. This doesn't mean that God doesn't know what times will come but I will set that tangential path aside. It suffices to say that when times are bad taking solace in alcohol is a bad, bad idea.

But I suppose MacArthur, if he knows of this interpretation of Ecclesiastes 11:1-2 can either dispute its veracity or, more likely, emphasize the point that one should invest in the lives of others. Skip the part about brewing beer and casting on the waters and emphasize diversification of investment in the lives of others. That much, I suppose, everyone could agree on.

Postscript: My friend Wendy over at Practical Theology for Women made a funny but prescient remark that the idea that Ecclesiastes 11:1-2 hinges on brewing beer for an interpretation is the kind of thing a guy would come up with. Not necessarily a sarcastic observation but I still find it amusing. Maybe John MacArthur would go so far as to propose that a worldly man would insist on such an interpretation.

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